Courtesy Yale Babylonian Collection

Twenty-Five Recipes In 75 Lines cover both sides of the 6.5-by-4.75-inch Tablet A, the best preserved of the world’s three oldest cookbooks. The style of the cuneiform script and the form of the Akkadian language suggest a date of about 1750 B.C.E. for the three tablets. The tablet’s edge bears a summary of the contents: “21 meat dishes, 4 vegetarian dishes.” However, only one of the so-called vegetarian dishes omits meat.

The dishes are named at the beginning of each recipe. The tablet starts with a meat stew (see the body of the article for recipe), followed by dishes called “Assyrian,” “red” and “bright” (or “clear”). Next come three more meat stews, each named after its stock: deer, gazelle and goat. After three obscure entries, there follow ten more stews—named for cassia, lamb, spleen, pigeon, mutton, vinegar, wild dove and three uncertain ingredients, as well as an Elamite stew—and one uncertain concoction. The so-called vegetarian dishes are a recipe for leftovers, one based on an herb of uncertain identity, one based on an unidentified vegetable and, the only genuine vegetarian dish, the “choice” or “cultivated” turnip. The briefness of the recipes makes them difficult to prepare, because even when all the ingredients can be identified, the steps for their preparation are often left out, as in family recipes passed on by word of mouth.